You are using an unsupported browser. Please use the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Edge.
Does Chocolate Win Your Heart Over?

Expert Advice

Does Chocolate Win Your Heart Over?

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, a Mass General nutritionist offers some advice on enjoying chocolate without going overboard.

Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN
February 1, 2024
Key Takeaways
Give chocolate the attention it deserves by minimizing distractions while eating it.
Dark chocolate typically contains less sugar than other types.
Focus on a diet high in flavonoids — not just chocolate — for better heart health.

Window displays are filled with pink and red roses. Teddy bears are multiplying before our very eyes. You can sense it — Valentine’s Day is coming. And with the holiday comes chocolate, often lots of it. If you love chocolate, you don’t have to let it be a guilty pleasure. Here are some tips for enjoying it.

Don’t Let Chocolate be a Guilty Pleasure

Guilt has no place in your diet. Instead of labeling a food like chocolate as “bad,” think about how you feel when you eat it. How does your body react after a few squares of chocolate versus after a heart-shaped box of it? Be sure to give the sweet the attention it deserves and try to minimize distractions while you’re eating it. You’ll likely enjoy it more and may need less of it to feel satisfied.

Dark chocolate has the greatest health benefits because it contains the most cocoa. White chocolate however, does not.
Dark chocolate has the greatest health benefits because it contains the most cocoa.

All Chocolate is not Created Equal

Most research that touts the health benefits of chocolate focuses on its flavonoid content, found in cocoa. While some studies have indicated that these plant chemicals may impact heart health by improving blood pressure or cholesterol levels, the amount needed is typically more than what is found in most commercially available chocolate. That said, some types of chocolate may be healthier than others.

Making Chocolate Choices

  • Dark Chocolate: Typically has the highest flavonoid content and is often lower in sugar compared to other varieties.
  • Milk Chocolate: Has less cocoa than dark chocolate and, thus, fewer flavonoids. It is also required to contain at least 12% milk solids.
  • White Chocolate: Is not a good source of flavonoids and contains mostly cocoa butter or vegetable fat. These fats may actually raise cholesterol.

Keep in mind flavonoids are also found in other places in the diet, like berries, apples, grapes and tea. If you like chocolate, go ahead and enjoy some this Valentine’s Day. There is no need to rationalize its consumption. But it’s unlikely to offer significant protection to your heart all on its own.

Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN
Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN

Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN, is a senior clinical nutrition specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. As a registered dietitian, she counsels on medical nutrition therapy on an outpatient basis and is co-director of Be Fit, the hospital’s employee wellness program.

Jointly sponsored by The Clubs at Charles River Park and MGH Nutrition and Food Services, the 10-week program focuses on helping participants “Be Fit and Eat Right.” Every ten weeks, employees from different departments within the hospital compete with each other as they make a commitment to Be Fit. Through the creation of a social environment at the workplace, participants are supported to make progress in personal lifestyle changes with the help of a unique support system that includes a dedicated nutritionist and personal trainer.

Be Fit strives to create a milieu of wellness that extends beyond the 10-week curriculum by offering features to those who are not part of the intensive program. This includes the creation of Choose Well, Eat Well, a rating system designed to help both employees and patients increase awareness of healthy choices at retail eateries within the hospital. They also publish a timely nutrition tip each month.